Domo Arigato, Mr. Incredibly Destructive Roboto
Despite my repeated requests each holiday season, my parents never came through and provided me with my very own BattleMech. I had to content myself with the BattleTech series of tabletop and computer games to know what unleashing the power of a giant walking tank would feel like. Personae Studios and Smith & Tinker are doing their best to help repair my wounds by releasing MechWarrior: Tactical Command for iOS devices, a real time strategy game that kind of, sort of scratches the itch.
MechWarrior: Tactical Command places you in the 31st Century boots of a military commander in the Federated Commonwealth testing out a brand new interface for commanding units on the ground. This interface conveniently takes the form of your iPad screen, allowing you to simply tap on Mechs and send them moving or attacking with a second tap. Several other context sensitive menus can be accessed by holding your finger on the screen, permitting actions like launching sensor drones or calling in aerial strikes.
You’ll need all of those tools, since the game is set at the beginning of the Clan invasion. Those familiar with the BattleTech timeline will immediately recognize this as Bad News (patent pending), while newcomers are brought up to speed by the desperation in the voice actors’ lines that introduce each mission. The Clans are unfamiliar foes with high tech weaponry, and they make for formidable enemies that force the existing Inner Sphere powers into uneasy alliances.
Each mission gives you a specific objective to accomplish on the battlefield and the proper tools to get it done. True to the game’s source material, light Mechs move quickly for reconnaissance purposes but are quickly torn up if they stand and fight. Assault Mechs like the “Awesome” pack tons of firepower and can take a beating in return. You’ll see ballistic weapons, particle beams and missiles all get fired, and heat is a factor just like you’d expect. The Mechs take damage in specific body locations, and it’s certainly fun to see them limp around with destroyed legs trying to stay in the fight.
So far, so good. What isn’t so great, however, is the precision of the control system. You can highlight multiple Mechs at once to send an entire lance to one place, but too often you’ll see one or two refuse to get the message. Units can too easily get tangled up on buildings or allied vehicles to march humorously in place. And there are times the interface simply misinterprets a tap to send your troops into the fray as a menu-opening press instead.
MechWarrior: Tactical Command is also prone to crashing on occasion without warning, erasing all of the progress you’ve made in the current mission. Since the missions tend to be on the long side, it goes without saying that you only need to experience this a few times before your frustration meter is completely full. A couple of other things you’d expect from a BattleTech game, like the ability to customize your Mechs, are also absent.
It’s a shame, since the positive aspects of the game are really promising. The graphics are excellent, with the silhouettes of famous Mechs easily recognizable even from a fairly distant overhead view. Few RTS mobile games have a map like this one either; one which you can zoom in and out onto, and even rotate 360 degrees to get a better look at what you might be walking into.
Some lucky kid is going to wake up to his own BattleMech on Christmas day eventually. For now, though, MechWarrior: Tactical Command is a decent attempt at putting bipedal warfare in a portable package. An attempt that that hopefully leads to even better titles down the road.